Learners' Questions

Intermediate level

'Lie', 'lie' or 'lay'?

Episode 200121 / 21 Jan 2020

This week's question

What's the difference between 'lie' and 'lay'? - Alejandra

Answer this

How many verb forms does the verb 'lie' have?

Language points

Lie - move into a horizontal or flat position
Lie can mean 'to move into a horizontal or flat position'. Its forms are 'lie', 'lay' and 'lain'. 

  • If you don't feel well, lie on the bed.

Lie - be in a particular place
Lie 
can mean 'be in a particular place'. Its forms are 'lie', 'lay' and 'lain'. If something lies somewhere, it is in that place. We can also use lie in this way to talk about the place of blame or responsibility. Blame or responisibility lie with someone. 

  • The clothes lay all over the floor. 
  • My home lies five miles east of London.
  • The blame lies with him, but the responsibility lies with you.

Lie - the place where someone is buried
Lie can also formally refer to the place where someone is buried. Its forms are 'lie', 'lay' and 'lain'.

  • Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton lie in Westminster Abbey.

Lie - speak false
Lie 
can mean 'speak falsely' or 'speak untruth'. Its forms are 'lie', 'lied' and 'lied'. You lie to someone about (doing) something. There are many expression using 'lie'. You can lie your way into something. You can lie your way out of something. You can tell 'a barefaced lie'. You can 'lie through your teeth'. Or to emphasise that you are telling the truth, you can say 'no word of a lie'.

  • He lied to his teacher about doing his homework.
  • I lied my way into the club.
  • I lied my way out of a parking ticket.
  • That is a barefaced lie! I saw you eating my cake.
  • I lied through my teeth and said I hadn't seen you today.
  • I love you with all my heart. No word of a lie.

Lay - put something in a flat or horizontal position
Lay can mean 'put something in a flat or horizontal position' often carefully. Its forms are 'lay', 'laid', 'laid'. We can lay many things such as carpet, railway tracks, building foundations etc. We can metaphorically lay a dead person to rest by burying them. 

  • I laid the baby in her cot.
  • Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

Lay - prepare
Lay can mean 'prepare' or 'make ready'. You can lay the table for a meal, or lay a place for someone at a table. You can lay a fire. You can lay a trap for someone.

  • How many places do I need to lay at the table for lunch?
  • The hunter laid three traps to catch some dinner.

Lay - push an egg out of your body
Lay
can mean 'push an egg out of your body' 

  • My chicken laid three eggs this morning.

The answer

It has two sets of verb forms: 1 - 'lie', 'lay' and 'lain'. 2 - 'lie', 'lied' and 'lied'. Be careful! They have different meanings.

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